January 6, 2009 Archives
Southern California Caltrans officials expect it’ll take two years to complete a soil study for the 710 freeway expansion project. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario checked in with an excavation team today as they worked on what could be the longest underground passage in the country.
Patricia Nazario: The exploration team collected soil samples in Alhambra, right above where the 710 freeway ends. It’s one of five zones Caltrans plans to explore.
Caltrans district director Douglas Failing says another option is building a tunnel to the 210 Freeway and right under homes in South Pasadena.
Douglas Failing: “They recognize the importance of transportation in the corridor. Certainly, they have their desires that it not impact them. But I think they recognize the advantage that a tunnel may have in not having impacts in their communities.”
Nazario: Failing believes a tunnel would mitigate many environmental concerns, although those studies are still years away. If the project gets the green light, it could be as long as 10 miles, and as deep as 300 feet below street level. It wouldn’t open to cars for another seven years. Caltrans expects its exploration phase to last two years.
Residents can get information and get involved in the process through upcoming public meetings.
More information: 710tunnelstudy.info
- January 6, 2009 6:53 PM
- Categories: Transportation
Riverside County supervisors today unanimously approved an ordinance to limits protests outside a private residence. The action was inspired by a recent demonstration that targeted a secluded Church of Scientology complex near Hemet. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas has more.
Steven Cuevas: Activists held the protest last October outside a gated Scientology compound called “Golden Era Productions.” Security guards were seen on video roughing up a protestor after he walked onto edge of the property.
Critics claim the facility is an interrogation center for recalcitrant Scientology members. Scientology officials insist it’s just the Church’s media production wing, though some Scientologists do live there. They say the occasional protests infringe on their right to privacy.
Riverside County supervisors approved the measure as an “urgency” ordinance, so it’ll take effect immediately. It bars protestors from getting within 50 feet of a targeted residence’s property line. That would make public demonstrations near the Scientology compound nearly impossible. The main road that leads to it is surrounded on both sides by church-owned land. The church now says it’ll allow protests inside a designated area outside the compound’s front gates.
The L.A. Unified School District’s new superintendent Ray Cortines sent a letter today to district employees. In it, he warns of possible layoffs.
At a news conference this afternoon, Cortines said his immediate goals are to address a $250 million budget shortfall for this school year, and to begin planning for even bigger deficits in the next two years. Cortines said the school district could lose a lot of its newer teachers.
Ray Cortines: “If I’m a third grade teacher, and I’ve been around for 50 years, I’m not gonna lose my third grade job. But the teacher next door to me, this little young whippersnap that I’ve been mentoring and helping, this teacher is going. So it creates a morale problem within a school.”
Cortines said 2,000 to 4,000 district employees, not only teachers, could lose their jobs. The L.A. Unified Board of Education must approve any personnel cuts.
Anti-tax groups and dozens of Republican lawmakers are suing to block a plan Democrats passed last month to raise taxes. The package passed without Republican support or a two-thirds legislative vote. The coalition says that makes it illegal.
Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says the Democrats’ move would set a dangerous precedent if it’s allowed to stand:
Jon Coupal: “What the legislative majority has attempted is clearly a change in state law for the purpose of changing revenue, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.”
Coupal says the group filed the legal challenge today in California’s Third District Court of Appeals. The governor has threatened to veto the plan anyway, so it may never become law.
Democrats say their plan is legal because it cuts and raises equal amounts of taxes. They also say they voted to increase other fees – not taxes – that don’t require a two-thirds vote.
State transportation officials hope that building a tunnel under South Pasadena will ease that city’s resistance to the 710 Freeway extension project.
Caltrans district director Douglas Failing says the exploration team that started drilling today is looking for routes engineers should avoid, including seismic faults.
Douglas Failing: “Many of our borings will be straight up and down, just looking at the rock that we go through. But if we find an interesting area, and we’ve picked a couple out already, we’ll drill at an angle, so we can cut across a series of different soil types and see how they lay and see how they interact.”
People in South Pasadena have long opposed a street-level plan that would run a concrete divider through their neighborhood. Caltrans’ Failing says his agency is trying to accommodate those concerns by exploring five different zones for the tunnel that would connect the 710 and 210 Freeways.
Caltrans expects the exploration phase to last two years.
- January 6, 2009 5:29 PM
- Categories: Transportation
A Southland state lawmaker wants to test a program that would inflict harsher penalties on drunk drivers. Assemblyman Mike Feuer has introduced a bill that would require anyone who’s been convicted of a drunk driving offense to install a breath analysis device in his or her vehicle. Feuer says the technology will help prevent deaths.
Mike Feuer: “It works because this puts the driver in the habit of driving in sober condition. We’re trying to reduce the rate of recidivism in California among drunk drivers.”
The devices are like a breathalyzer that links into a car’s ignition system. A driver blows into it. The car won’t start unless the driver’s alcohol level is below the legal limit of 0.08. Courts maintain discretion over whether or not to require the devices.
Feuer’s bill would create a pilot project for the new penalty in four California counties. The California Highway Patrol reports that during the holidays its officers arrested almost 3,000 people for driving under the influence.
The company that operates Metrolink trains knew about the cell phone habits of the engineer involved in the Chatsworth crash – before it happened. That’s the claim of attorneys for more than a dozen victims of the crash. More on the story from KPCC’s Nick Roman.
Nick Roman: Attorney Ed Pfiester says his investigation has revealed that some months before the crash last September, Veolia – the operator of Metrolink trains – conducted a field test and found out that Engineer Robert Sanchez used his cell phone while working.
Ed Pfiester: It’s been against the written rules of Metrolink for a long long time. They busted him for it, but they didn’t really do anything about it.
Roman: Then, two weeks before the crash, says Pfeister, one of Sanchez’ fellow employees called upper management to say that something had to be done about the engineer’s cell phone habits. Pfiester says an employee even complained about Sanchez and Veolia’s lack of action within three hours of the accident.
Pfiester: The employee was frustrated. ‘What can I do? What can we do? Somebody’s gonna get hurt badly.’
Roman: Attorney Ed Pfiester says the company’s inaction opens the door to punitive damages in a lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Veolia said the company enforces strict cell phone policies. Engineer Robert Sanchez was killed in the crash.
Two media companies that serve the Southland’s large Spanish-speaking audience are preparing to duke it out in court. Televisa is the Mexican producer of the soap operas that anchor TV network Univision’s prime time.
It’s claiming that the Spanish-language network cut some Televisa programs out of a deal to share advertising revenue. Media consultant Julio Rumbaut explained the premise of the court battle to KPCC’s “Patt Morrison.”
Julio Rumbaut: “Televisa feels that it has very, very relevant content and very very compelling content for the U.S. Hispanic market. I think Televisa has tried to find a way to break the contract or be susceptive to by looking at a breach issue.”
A jury was seated today in the $118 million breach-of-contract case. It’s playing out in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles.
The federal corruption trial of former Orange County sheriff Mike Carona is in the home stretch. Jurors in Santa Ana today heard prosecutors summarize their case that Carona sold favors as Sheriff. The keys to their case are recording of Carona backed by testimony from Carona’s longtime political backer Don Haidl.
KPCC’s Susan Valot says the judge gave jurors a guide to follow when weighing evidence.
Susan Valot: “The judge told the jury that you may believe everything a witness says, or part of it, or none of it. And that is important because the main prosecution witness is former assistant sheriff Don Haidl, who secretly recorded conversations with Carona. And if you look at Haidl himself, he recorded these conversations as part of a plea deal.”
Prosecutors say Haidl paid out $420,000 to Carona and others to buy influence within the Sheriff’s Department. Prosecutor Ken Julian says Carona took the money because he got a “taste of wealth” - and liked it. But the former sheriff’s defense team says Haidl sold his testimony for a lighter sentence after pleading guilty to corruption charges of his own.
The defense began its final arguments today – and expects to finish by noon tomorrow.
- January 6, 2009 3:57 PM
- Categories: Criminal Justice
It’s pretty easy to find energy-efficiency labels on refrigerators, microwaves, and computers. But not so much on TVs. Art Rosenfeld is a member of the California Energy Commission. Now that wide-screen plasma and LCD televisions are so popular, he said, the state should require stores to sell only the most efficient models.
Art Rosenfeld: “TVs are the fastest-growing consumer of electricity in your house and it’s time to put labels and standards on them.”
Rosenfeld spoke with KPCC’s “Patt Morrison.” Doug Johnson, who directs technology policy for the Consumer Electronics Association, told Patt that his organization objects to mandatory efficiency rules.
Doug Johnson: “Convergence, innovation, and transition from analog to digital have driven a lot of energy savings in our industries, but the California Energy Commission is really viewing the whole situation through regulatory lenses. And that’s not really the way to look at the electronics sector.”
Johnson argued that market-oriented, voluntary, and consumer-focused programs like Energy Star are more effective ways to promote energy efficiency. California’s new rules would go into effect a couple of years from now.
Christmas greetings! Your calendar is on the right page. For many Orthodox Christians in the Southland and across the country, this is Christmas Eve. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says that’s because liturgical calendars vary.
Cheryl Devall: The Armenian, Ukrainian, Russian, Serbian, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches observe Christmas on December 25th - by the Julian calendar that’s 13 days behind the more widely-used Gregorian calendar. That places Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. Special worship services and family celebrations take place in churches that serve about 40,000 faithful in the Southland.
Having Christmas around the same time many people mark the Epiphany - the visit to the infant Jesus from three wise men - isn’t easy. Many Orthodox believers can’t get time off from work, or - like adherents to other religions - they chafe at the overwhelming cultural emphasis on Christmas in late December. The Greek Orthodox Church - the largest of the branches in this country - addressed the matter more than 80 years ago by shifting its Christmas to December 25th – on the Gregorian calendar.
- January 6, 2009 3:43 PM
- Categories: Religion/Spirituality
A new, inter-agency effort to curb gang violence won approval from Los Angeles County’s board of supervisors today.
Supervisor Gloria Molina told KPCC’s “Patt Morrison” that one of the target groups for this anti-gang program will be kids who’ve spent time in probation camps.
Gloria Molina: “Some anti-gang programs are as simple as an after-school program. Others are simple mentoring programs. We’re going to have a very comprehensive program accessing this child’s ability to finish school; accessing their ability to get onto a job after school.”
The pilot program will take place in the Florence/Firestone, Pacoima, Harbor Gateway, and Monrovia/Duarte areas of L.A. County. The supervisors’ approval doubled the number of areas the program will affect. There’s no firm estimate for what it’ll cost.
San Bernardino County’s assessor has all but ended a once promising career in politics. Bill Postmus today told county supervisors he will not run for a second term – or pursue any other public office. The decision comes amid allegations of fraud, corruption, and drug abuse. KPCC’s Steven Cuevas has details.
Steven Cuevas: In an emotional address to the supervisors, Postmus said he will serve out his term - and will not run for re-election next year. The 38-year-old Republican also admitted he’s been battling a drug problem. He apologized for “mistakes” he’s made during his tenure as county assessor.
Postmus was once a powerful force in Inland GOP politics. When he was 30, he was elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on a pledge to root out corruption. He moved on to become the county assessor - and looked like a shoe-in for state or federal office.
But earlier this year, a grand jury report alleged Postmus used the assessor’s office for political activity. A former assistant faces felony charges as part of a criminal probe. Postmus has not been charged.
County supervisors have considered taking steps to root him from office. But a staff report says doing that could cost San Bernardino County more than a million dollars - and could take a year. By then, Postmus would have nearly finished his term as assessor.
- January 6, 2009 3:11 PM
- Categories: Politics/Public Affairs
Federal prosecutors today began summarizing their case in the Santa Ana corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.
As they had earlier, prosecutors played snippets of secretly recorded conversations between Carona and Don Haidl. The former assistant sheriff and longtime Carona backer is the key witness in the case. Haidl testified about how Carona allegedly used the office of sheriff to make money.
KPCC’s Susan Valot is in the courtroom. She says even after weeks of slow and tedious testimony, the jurors are still paying close attention.
Susan Valot: “There’s a couple who are sitting there with their arms crossed and listening. There are some who you’ll notice close their eyes while they’re listening because they’ve heard this all before.
“Mike Carona has been sitting there and watching and listening. He takes notes on a yellow legal pad, and every once in a while, he pulls out a red Sharpie marker and uses that red marker to underline certain parts of his notes.”
KPCC’s Susan Valot says the judge opened the day by reading 59 pages of jury instructions. She says the judge has promised the jurors they’ll each get their own copies of the instructions when deliberations begin.
- January 6, 2009 2:09 PM
- Categories: Criminal Justice
An attorney for one of three breakaway Episcopal parishes that lost the right to keep their property in yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling says the legal skirmish isn’t over.
But Bishop Jon Bruno, head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese, told KPCC’s “AirTalk” he doesn’t think the case will return to trial court.
Jon Bruno: “The reality is that we don’t think that it will be going back to the Orange County court. We think that it will be handled by the appellate court, which the Supreme Court affirmed their decision yesterday.”
Congregations in Newport Beach, Long Beach, and North Hollywood left the Episcopal Church almost five years ago after it ordained a gay bishop. Those parishes - along with about 100 others in the United States – affiliated with Anglican dioceses elsewhere in the world that share their position that the ordination was wrong.
The attorney for a breakaway Episcopal congregation says the legal fight over the church’s property is not over. The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that three Southern California parishes that left the U.S. Episcopal Church don’t have a right to keep their church buildings and land.
Eric Sohlgren is an attorney for one of the parishes, Saint James Church in Newport Beach. He told KPCC’s “AirTalk” he thinks the case has to go back to a trial court.
Eric Sohlgren: “Based on the procedural posture of the case in the trial court below, this case has never really been litigated with discovery or a trial so all the Supreme Court has done here is issue some rulings about what the law should be.”
Sohlgren believes that additional evidence may help the churches’ case, or mitigate the effects of yesterday’s decision.
The congregations broke away almost five years ago after the U.S. Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop. The head of Los Angeles’ Episcopal Diocese says he hopes the ruling will lead to reconciliation talks with the three parishes.